Actors often get their accolades for doing drama, comedy, or even action, but it never seems like we properly recognize those actors which do a splendid job scaring us. This is a list of the top ten actors that are excellent at being scary.
Make-up, prosthetics, computer animation, and costumes can only go so far. What makes a movie character really scary is the actor or actress portraying that character. And it’s not enough just to yell “boo!” at the right moment. No, the best in the business know how to create a believable persona that is disturbing, creepy, disgusting, mysterious, or maybe all at once.
This is a list of my pick for the top ten scariest actors of all time. These actors are veterans and legends in the film industry because of the ingenious ways they were able to spook the audience consistently throughout their career. Their faces are well known because of what they did on the big screen, and if they are on this list, I’ve described the reason why.
10. Donald Pleasance
Pleasance was an actor who made a career with mostly supporting roles, and is arguably one of the all-time best at doing so. In order to be successful in supporting roles, you need to be very versatile, and have the talent to make any character believable, no matter what side of the spectrum that character fell. Pleasance had that talent; he could do a good comedic role just as well as a role in a horror movie. His work in the Halloween franchise alone is enough to put him on this list.
Scariest Performances: Halloween (1978), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Flesh and the Friends (1958), Prince of Darkness (1987)
9. Malcolm McDowell
McDowell hasn’t done a big-time horror movie per-se, but he is almost always cast as the bad guy or as an anti-hero. He is a scary actor – always portraying his characters as sick, twisted individuals with a diabolic perspective or motivation. The reason he’s on this list? He’s really good at what he does.
Scariest Performances: A Clockwork Orange (1971), Halloween (2007), Cat People (1982), The Caller (1987)
8. Robert Englund
Although Halloween brought the slasher sub-genre to mainstream audiences in 1978, it was Robert Englund as Freddy Kruger in 6+ A Nightmare on Elm Street movies that elevated the role to new heights. Unlike Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger was arguably more of an actual character. Englund knew how to make it look good too, he used his physical presence to his advantage. His work in the Nightmare franchise allowed him to do several other horror movie roles, but he will always be known as Freddy Kruger.
Scariest Performances: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (1994), The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
7. Peter Cushing
Probably best known to audiences today for his role in the first Star Wars film, Cushing was actually an accomplished actor in many genres, and was highly proficient and memorable in several horror flicks. For these movies, Cushing frequently collaborated with many of the other actors on this list and was a close acquaintance of Christopher Lee. Despite playing so many evil characters, he was actually a really nice guy and that explains why he worked so well with others.
Scariest Performances: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Twins of Evil (1972), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Asylum (1972)
6. Anthony Hopkins
Like Robert Englund, Hopkin’s contribution to the horror film genre is mostly via a single character, but that character is so frightening and memorable that it more than makes up for his lack of horror film roles. Unlike Englund, however, Hopkins is an established veteran actor with many memorable roles under his belt and is perhaps one of the most accomplished actors still working today. Although no single role comes to mind that defines his career more than Hannibal Lecter, he always brings the same energy to his roles which makes for some very off-putting performances.
Scariest Performances: Silence of The Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), The Rite (2011), Instinct (1999)
5. Bela Lugosi
Lugosi helped us to define the modern interpretation of many infamous characters, most notably Count Dracula. The face, mannerisms, and voice that we now associate with Dracula is mostly thanks to the historic performances of Lugosi. The fact that he went on to do several other horror films and was just as monumental in those makes him a solid addition to this list.
Scariest Performances: Dracula (1931), Bride of the Monster (1955), Son of Frankenstein (1939), White Zombie (1932)
4. Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee has a very long and varied film career, but he best known for the sinister characters that he frequently portrayed. He is one of those actors that happens to have the perfect face and mannerisms to portray all sorts of creepy personas. He also has that deep voice that is scary by itself, and it doesn’t hurt that he is extremely talented. Consider yourself warned.
Scariest Performances: Dracula (1958), The Wicker Man (1973), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Mummy (1959)
3. Lon Chaney, Sr.
Unlike many of the other actors in this list, Lon Chaney, Sr. didn’t have the ability to use his voice as an acting tool to add to his onscreen personas; Chaney was one of the most prolific actors of the silent film era. The fact that he managed to be just as frightening without the ability to use his voice makes his performances that much more impressive. Or maybe that’s just what made some of his characters so diabolic….
Scariest Performances: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Unknown (1927), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), London After Midnight (1927)
2. Boris Karloff
Boris is known as “The Great Master of Horror”, and there is a reason for that. He was good in everything he did, and most of the time he did horror. He single-handedly brought horror movies to the mainstream by adapting characters such as Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy for the silver screen. Furthermore, he knew how to convey the proper intensity and sinister nature that his roles demanded.
Scariest Performances: Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Mummy (1932), The Body Snatcher (1946)
1. Vincent Price
While all of these actors have proven that they are very proficient at scaring the pants off of the audience, Vincent Price is a legend for a slightly different reason. Sure, he is excellent at being creepy, but it’s the personality and persona that he brings to his characters that makes him the number one choice. It was his talent of making you laugh and scream at the same time that landed him here. Movies are meant to be entertaining, and Vincent Price is perhaps the most entertaining actor of all time.
Scariest Performances: House of Wax (1953), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Tingler (1959)